‘You can’t understand another person’s experience until you walk a mile in their shoes’.
A saying that has never rung more true to me than when I was recently over in Malawi. We all see the images on TV, like on Live Aid and Comic Relief, we know the hardship faced over in Africa. It’s been drummed into us for so many years now, but we are sometimes so far removed from it all in our everyday lives that it becomes exactly that for many people – just images, just statistics.
However, spend a week with these inspirational communities and I guarantee that you will view life differently. Each trip leaves key moments printed in your heart – for me, this trip, it’s a lovingly bandaged toe that spoke a thousand words…but I will come on to that shortly.
Ranked by the World Bank in 2015 as the poorest country in the world, life in Malawi is beyond tough. I got to witness on my recent trip that even when people are faced with adverse challenges ….that hope and the human spirit is an incredible thing.
Walking a mile in Annie’s shoes
Annie is just one of the many women and children that face the daily challenge of collecting water for her family.
Annie showed us just what this is like. Everywhere you look women and children are carrying water (so very graciously too), it’s the stereotypical image that we often see across Africa – but it’s not until you lift a 25 litre container full to the brim with water on your head (that’s the equivalent of 23kgs, the weight of a suitcase that I take on holiday!) that you understand the enormity of this daily task. It’s shockingly heavy – I was barely able to hold the weight on my head for more than a minute, let alone walk up to four hours a day like so many women and children have no choice but to do.
Walking a mile in Joseph’s shoes
An inspiring 74 year old village chief, who again will remain etched in my thoughts, proudly showed us his house where he lives with his wife Flossie, before taking us down the steep hilly walk to an open water source previously used to collect water. I needed a helping hand up many times puffing and panting as the team followed behind (two of us even fell over!)…and there’s Joseph, in his worn out flip flops and his walking stick leading the way at 74!
Joseph showed us where Zonsezi Village used to collect water from before The One Foundation repaired their broken pump. We reached a stagnant pond that’s shared with pigs and goats – you wouldn’t paddle in it let alone drink from it.
Their pump had been broken for over a year and a half, many people had come to look at the pump and said it wasn’t repairable as it was so badly damaged. Our pump repair team took a look over it and with a complete new overhaul it was fixed. We left Zonsezi village with flowing water and immeasurable smiles.
Walking a mile in Inesse’s shoes
It’s the tiny things that are often the most powerful and that stay with you.
At 70 years old, Inesse took us down the rocky dirt track to the old dirty water source in her village that again, like so many people in Malawi, they have no choice but to drink from. We walked the steep route together for 40 minutes laughing and gesturing, we didn’t speak the same language but we didn’t have to, I understood with no doubt at all the story that her bare shoeless feet and her lovingly bandaged toe told.
It’s hard to witness the harsh realities – women and children washing in local rivers, children drinking from these open water sources that they share with cattle and livestock. We heard many stories while we were there about the sickness and diarrhoea that so many people struggle with on a daily basis, as though this is just normal.
Walking a mile in Harrison’s shoes
It’s for these very reasons that the proudest shoes we walked in that week were Harrison’s and our dedicated pump repair team’s – travelling across Malawi rehabilitating broken water pumps, replacing broken cylinders, sawing off rusty nuts and bolts, pulling out and replacing broken pipes that go on and on underground. And leaving communities with flowing water.
To see, across the week, the change that we are making. To see the importance of safe, clean water and the impact in communities when they have access to something so basic – the life that it brings, the step up that it gives and how communities can go on to thrive and lift themselves out of poverty. It’s walking in these people’s inspirational shoes that drives me to continue to do more and to see our goal achieved in this lifetime – a world in which everyone has access to safe, clean water. Forever.